Boler Mountain, Ontario

Downhill Skiing Anyone?

Ski Hill: Mont Boler, Ontario
Map: Location
Vertical: 63 m (207 ft)
Snowfall: unknown

Volunteers, like soldiers, are often driven by the desire to give something back; be it to their club, their community or their country. They also share a healthy can-do attitude that helps them transform seemingly insurmountable mountains into molehills. Or, in the case of Boler, shape-shifting an apparent molehill into a veritable mountain of fun.

Community Ski Areas: Stories from The Heartland of Canadian Skiing is an on-going series that looks at the often small and overlooked ski areas where most Canadians learned to ski and now share their passion for the sport with their children and grandchildren. || Creative Director: Gordie Bowles | Writer: Dave Fonda

For the Love of Skiing

Those transformative qualities have been on display at Boler since 1946, when a group of Londoners returned from serving overseas in World War 2. Among other things, they brought back a love of skiing that was so great they had to share it with everyone in London, Ontario. 

In 1947, they founded the London Ski Club, a volunteer-run, not-for-profit organization. Their mission was to find a nearby hill that would appeal to both novice and expert skiers alike. Given Southwestern Ontario’s topography, this was no small task.

Bobby Savage, 7, on top, piles onto Danny Phillips, 10, and his brother Bill Phillips, 9, as Norman Eggett, 11, holds onto the sled, circa 1949. Source: Western Archives via London Free Press Jan 1st, 2001 edition 

The official opening of Hill ’55 at London Ski Club on February 13, 1955. Photo source: Western Archives London Free Press 

From Humble Beginnings

After surveying the area, they settled on a hill just 10 kilometres from downtown. They named it the London Ski Club and dutifully set about clearing the slopes, installing a rope-tow and erecting a modest chalet. As importantly, they pumped any profits they generated from operating the ski hill back into improving and expanding it.

Over the following decades, London Ski Club volunteers replaced the old rope-tows with more user-friendly T-bars. They opened more trails and more varied terrain. In 1972, they levelled the original chalet and erected a new one at the base of Hill 55. Whenever duty called, they answered.

Truly a Hill for Everyone

In the early 1960s, club volunteers began working with the Thames Valley Children’s Centre. With financial assistance from the local Royal Canadian Legion, they developed one of Canada’s first learn-to-ski programs for the disabled and the blind. Thanks to their unwavering dedication and tireless work the London Ski Club’s adaptive skiing program was a triumph. 

When its successor, the London Track 3 Ski School was incorporated in 1993, it formed a partnership and operating agreement with the club. Today, 250 volunteers devote their time, energy and expertise to helping over 130 disabled skiers and snowboarders enjoy winter and lead fuller, richer lives. Though most students ski or ride recreationally, some also compete actively. It’s amazing how desire + determination = fun.

Members of the London Ski Club – Bob Burnett, 16, Gregg Rioux, 21, and Mike Imsole, 17 performing a “tip stand”, on January 16, 1967. Photo source: Western Archives London Free Press Collection. 

Children learning to ski, circa January 15, 1955. Source: London Free Press Photographic Negative Collection Western Archives. 

Continued Expansion and Growth

As the London Ski Club continued to expand its offerings and grow, its volunteers were always there. They added more trails and, incredibly, more vertical. They replaced an old platter lift with a new quad chair.

Then, in 1995, they smoothly switched gears and welcomed the Boler Mountain Biking Centre to their facilities. The following year, the biking centre sold a whopping 500% more season passes and hosted a national Canada Cup series race. The London Ski Club was enroute to becoming a year-round recreational facility.

A community ski area is a focal point for kids and young families to spend time outdoors sharing an experience and enjoying this wonderful sport. The staff tend to wear many hats and share with guests the spirit of ‘we can do it’. It’s an area where you can drop in for an hour or spend the day.” 

Greg Strauss, Managing Director & Marty Thody, Director of Operations, Boler Mountain

Time to Change Hats and Names

In 2010, the London Ski Club officially changed its name to Boler Mountain in honour of Garn Shaw, an early ski school director who affectionately called this area the ‘Ryan Alps’. Why not?

Flying under its new banner, Boler beefed up its winter operation with a new snowmaking centre and a new lift that opened the West Hill area. Then, in 2013, Boler augmented its summer fare with a treetop adventure course and the 1,100-foot long Big Zip line. Meanwhile, 200 volunteers once again rolled up their sleeves and built a community playground. Their good work established Boler Mountain as London’s premier outdoor adventure attraction. 

Boler Mountain, 2023.

Becoming A True Year-round Destination 

According to current General Manager, Greg Strauss, “winter has been and always will be the primary business.” Annually, Boler averages about 130,000 skier visits. “But,” adds Greg, “we continue to expand our summer offerings to fully utilise our beautiful property and increase our efficiencies. Over the past 20 years, we’ve added mountain biking, kids’ camps, yoga, boot camps, beach volleyball and more.” Redesigned in 2015, Boler’s 16,000-square-foot chalet has become a hotspot for weddings, baby showers, birthdays, corporate meetings and retreats. Says Greg, “our vibrant summer business accounts for 25 percent of our revenue.”

Boler Mountain Notables

Despite its modest 63-metre (207-foot) vertical, Boler now boasts 15 trails, three quads and a magic carpet. It’s also produced its fair share of notable characters. Says Greg, “Dave Duncan was always skiing and training at Boler until he received a scholarship to an American university where he competed on an NCAA Team.” Dave went on to become a two-time Olympian who represented Canada in ski cross. Adds Greg, “we’ve also been privileged to have many dedicated volunteers who started Boler Mountain, a.k.a. the London Ski Club, in the 1940s and helped it survive over the decades and evolve into the solid business enterprise it has become.”

Dave Duncan. Photo courtesy Canadian Olympic Committee. 

Dubbed “The Devil’s Dip”, the hill in front of University College at Western has long been the site of winter tobogganing, but  in 1963 construction of the new Medical School finally obliterated what was considered to be the most dangerous hill on campus. Circa 1925. Photo source – Western University Archives. 

Why Giving Has Always Been Key to Boler’s Success

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Boler is that after 76 years, everyone still embraces the London Ski Club’s ways. Says Greg, “as a not-for-profit organization we continually reinvest any profits into making Boler Mountain the most dynamic destination for outdoor adventure in Southwestern Ontario.”

Any volunteers?

Boler may be short in vertical, but it skis large with lots of variety. The feeling you get when you’re here is that you’ve become part of one big family sharing all of the experiences that come from being at a mountain. But… you’re in the middle of the city.” 

– Greg Strauss

Boler Mountain's 75th Anniversary (2021)

If you have any photos, videos or anectdotes that you’d like us to add to this story or if you have a story about any other ski area is your province or territory that you’d like us to add to this collection, please contact: [email protected]